The Ghosts of Benghazi
The final report on the attack on the U.S. consulate makes one thing clear: Republican charges of a cover-up are pure fiction.
Photo by STR/AFP/GettyImages.
During the drive to one of Barack Obama’s final campaign stops, navigating the suburbs of Columbus, Ohio, I found a dozen or so protesters standing where the media might see them. They held up handmade posters, demanding more questions and answers about the Sept. 11 attack on America’s consulate in Benghazi. One sign simply named the four Americans killed that day, in letters too big to miss. The others assigned blame:
Obama Said “Stand Down”
Ask About Benghazi
Tell the Truth Obama
Media at the time—conservative media, especially—were reporting every possible turn, twist, and revelation about the attacks. The “stand down” theory originated in an October 26 Fox News EXCLUSIVE (capital letters in the original), which reported that the CIA “chain of command” had “told the CIA operators twice to ‘stand down’ rather than help” besieged Americans. A complementary theory, advanced by the father of the murdered Navy SEAL Tyrone Woods, suggested that the White House had a “live feed” of the attack and sat shiva, doing nothing. Another theory, universally shared: The White House, led by people like UN Ambassador Susan Rice, was engaged in a massive cover-up.
This anger and panic added impetus to a study of the Benghazi killings, conducted by the State Department’s Accountability Review Board. The grimmest tales, the fodder for outrage and fulmination, were debunked. In fact, the problems at Benghazi started months before the attack, not in a fit of on-the-spot cowardice.
According to the report, the incident began around 9:42 p.m., after the day’s work was over. (To simplify matters, I’ve converted the military time in the report to standard time.) There were seven Americans at the consulate, which consisted of several buildings, and they were guarded by four members of the February 17 Martyr’s Brigade. “Guarded” is a lose term. A regional security officer saw, via a security camera, that “dozens of individuals” were marching through the compound’s main gate. The guards had fled; a police car, which was supposed to be outside, was gone.
The official account continues:
Just prior to receiving the TDY RSO’s distress call shortly after [9:42] local, the head of Annex security heard multiple explosions coming from the north in the direction of the SMC. The Annex security head immediately began to organize his team’s departure and notified his superiors, who began to contact local security elements to request support. The Annex response team departed its compound in two vehicles at approximately [10:05] local.
The Oct. 26 Fox News report doesn’t read this way. “Former Navy SEAL Tyrone Woods was part of a small team who was at the CIA annex about a mile from the U.S. consulate where Ambassador Chris Stevens and his team came under attack,” reported Fox’s Jennifer Griffin. “When he and others heard the shots fired, they informed their higher-ups at the annex to tell them what they were hearing and requested permission to go to the consulate and help out. They were told to ‘stand down,’ according to sources familiar with the exchange. Soon after, they were again told to ‘stand down.’ ”
David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or tweet at him @daveweigel.